Doug Griffin, the National Newspaper Award-winning photographer who began his dynamic career at the Toronto Star at just 16 years old, died Friday morning in his Mississauga home.
He was 92.
From royalty to politicians to Prince — Griffin photographed them all.
Griffin began at the Star as a copy boy in 1944, moving on to work in the darkroom and the wire photo department two years later. He worked as a full-time staff photographer starting in 1964 until he retired in 1990.
In 1971, Griffin won the NNA in the news photo category for a picture of Soviet Union premier Alexei Kosygin being attacked in Ottawa, as prime minister Pierre Trudeau walked next to him.
Griffin was walking backwards, taking photos of the world leaders when Geza Matrai, a former hairdresser and wrestler, leapt through the crowd and onto Kosygin’s back.
Taking a walk had been a last-minute change of plans, and the security guards weren’t prepared. The photos were later used to train security on how to cover the VIPs they were protecting, according to a story Griffin shared on Facebook.
Griffin would peer out of helicopters or hang off the side of a building to get the perfect shot. Despite his talent, skills and reputation, he often praised other photographers instead of himself.
Griffin’s children didn’t completely understand what his job was until they got older and began to sort through the photos he had taken throughout his career. His daughter Wendy encouraged him to share the stories behind the photos on Facebook in 2017.
“We actually never knew, really. He was just dad,” she said. “We knew he came home with some interesting stories, but to be honest, until he started filling out these Facebook pages as recollections . . . we started to realize, ‘wow, that was so cool.’ ”
Even after retiring in 1990, Wendy said her father would read the newspaper from front to back every day. He “revelled” in what today’s photographers were doing, watching to see whose photo was on the front page and what the shooters were posting on Facebook.
His daughter Deb said he considered his career a blessing and “the best job any young man ever could have.”
“He just enjoyed the Toronto Star,” she said. “It was the highlight of his life.”
Griffin shared that joy with his granddaughter Becky Laing, who took after him, and works as a wedding photographer. Among Laing’s fondest memories are going on a trip with her grandfather to Florida. In the hotel bathroom, he set up a darkroom, and from there she was hooked.
She recalls that when Griffin retired, the Star gifted him with a camera. He immediately gave it to her when she was only 13 years old.
“He would come by the house and pick me up, and we would tour around town,” Laing said. “At the time it was fully manual, so he was teaching me all the settings. We just loved spending time together.”
Erin Combs worked alongside Griffin as a staff photographer at the Star in the 1970s and ’80s, before she became the paper’s head of photography.
“Being the first female photographer at the Star was not easy to break in to, but Doug in his kind way told me not to worry about the (others). ‘You just be yourself and you’ll win them over,’ ” Combs said.
“I often heard many-a-photographer from rival papers say that Doug always had a word of encouragement for the young photographers.”
Richard Lautens was starting out at the Star as a summer student journalist in May, 1987. He and Griffin, who was acting as a mentor for him, went to the Harbourfront, looking for interesting photos.
Griffin noticed a photo developing — two canoes that seemed like they were drifting towards each other, about to collide.
“So he just points at the thing, yells at me like ‘Ahh, shoot that!’ I point with my camera — bang, bang, bang — and it ended up on the front page the next day,” Lautens said. “(On my) first day of interning I get the front page picture all because of Doug.”
Lautens said that was the kind of guy Griffin was.
“He was not trying to prove anything to anybody, he was just trying to help me out which was really nice of him.”
Jim Wilkes spent 36 years of his career at the Star, beginning in 1975. As a reporter and photographer, Griffin was also like a mentor to him.
“Not only was he a gentleman, but he was the gentlest soul I had ever met in the newspaper business,” Wilkes said. “He was probably one of the most unassuming people you would ever want to meet.
Griffin is predeceased by his wife June. He’s survived by his children Wendy, Deb Ellis, David and Glen; nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Due to the pandemic, there will not be a funeral service.